In Hungary’s Heartland, Orban Faces a Unified Challenge to His Rule
HODMEZOVASARHELY, Hungary — A devout Catholic, he abhors abortion as “murder” and once voted for Viktor Orban, Hungary’s pugnacious populist leader, impressed by his promises to root out corruption and end the disarray left by years of leftist rule.
On Sunday, however, Peter Marki-Zay, the mayor of this town in Hungary’s conservative rural heartland, became the most potent threat yet to the decade-long stranglehold on the country by Mr. Orban and his combative brand of far-right nationalism.
Mr. Marki-Zay, 49, victorious in a primary election that brought together six previously squabbling opposition parties, is now the standard-bearer for a rickety political alliance that will challenge and, according to opinion polls, perhaps defeat Mr. Orban and his political machine, Fidesz, in legislative elections next year.
Previous challengers hoping to unseat Mr. Orban, who has been prime minister since 2010, mostly channeled the frustrations and anger of a liberal elite in Budapest.
This time, the mayor is fighting Fidesz on its own terms and home turf — small towns and villages where many voters, Mr. Marki-Zay included, once found comfort in Mr. Orban’s conservative message but grew disenchanted with what they see as his corruption, hypocrisy and authoritarian tendencies.